Due to the inability of current clinical practices to restore function to degenerated intervertebral discs, the arena of disc tissue engineering has received substantial attention in recent years. Despite tremendous growth and progress in this field, translation to clinical implementation has been hindered by a lack of well-defined functional benchmarks. Because successful replacement of the disc is contingent upon replication of some or all of its complex mechanical behaviors, it is critically important that disc mechanics be well characterized in order to establish discrete functional goals for tissue engineering. In this review, the key functional signatures of the intervertebral disc are discussed and used to propose a series of native tissue benchmarks to guide the development of engineered replacement tissues. These benchmarks include measures of mechanical function under tensile, compressive, and shear deformations for the disc and its substructures. In some cases, important functional measures are identified that have yet to be measured in the native tissue. Ultimately, native tissue benchmark values are compared to measurements that have been made on engineered disc tissues, identifying where functional equivalence was achieved, and where there remain opportunities for advancement. Several excellent reviews exist regarding disc composition and structure, as well as recent tissue engineering strategies; therefore this review will remain focused on the functional aspects of disc tissue engineering. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd.
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